Standard Sounds

DJ Delish: Don't Sleep On Philly Ballroom

Along with their set for Half Moon sounds off, DJ Delish speaks about the origin of Ballroom in Philly, their work with the Coalition for Black Trans Economic Liberation, and the music that transports them to 1991 every time it plays.

When did you learn to make music and DJ? Was there a moment that sparked your interest in music?
I started playing the piano at a very young age and then the love for the "keyboard" itself made me want to put it altogether in producing! And I can't think of any moment specifically, I grew up going to church, so music was always around me in a heavily effective way. I'd have to say that it wasn't until I started to DJ that I began to feel like I found a place. Finally found a place.

You are actively working against the constant erasure of black trans women’s vital role in black history, and U.S. history, through your art. What does it mean to be visible as a black transgender woman in 2021? 
To put it in layman's terms, it's hard. You're up against so much. The violence against transwomen from cis-men, the misgendering, the standards---but on that same coin, on the other side, it's beautiful, it's powerful, it's expression. It's the human experience amplified, honestly. I find myself being very thankful to those who came before me, I realize more and more each day what their contributions have done to the grand scheme of society and if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have made it this far. 

Briefly describe your connection with the Coalition for Black Trans Economic Liberation and the crucial work that they do. 
My connection with the coalition is a deep one. I know both of the founders very personally, we've practically lived together for the past few years. In that time, I've learned so much about community and true leadership in that time. It makes me happy to know the love I got from these people will go into the world, a lot of people need it.

How important is Philadelphia’s rich history of Ballroom within the legacy of Black music? What, if anything, is missing in the current education, presentation and documenting of Ballroom culture?
I can answer both of these questions at the same damn time! Philadelphia has such an important staple in the overall ballroom history, especially in the music department, and I think the main thing missing in all of these documentations of ballroom IS Philadelphia. Don't get me wrong, we know who the New York girls are and they have a million more stories to tell, but we have to acknowledge the deep history that a lot of ballroom legends and icons share with Philadelphia. Most of people's favorites have either been a part of a Philadelphia-Chapter House or lived in Philly for some amount of time to where everyone knew that person was here. On top of that, MSFB (Mother Father Sister Brother) is from Philadelphia. If it wasn't for the "Love Is The Message" track that is THE ballroom song, Madonna and Malcolm McLaren would've been biting their nails figuring out something else, just saying! Over all, I think we could use more education on all of the cities outside of the popular ones that we've seen. Some of those places need closure on status as well. Because the ballroom scene can be so centralized, a lot of people go unnoticed as being the barrier breakers in their own city and I think we need to have that highlighted more often. 


Your magnificent 2-hour mix for us is a much-needed ode to the Ballroom genre and the expressive dance known as Voguing, full of sensational house sampling and great energy! How were you feeling while making it?
Well, anytime I play tracks from the "Paradise Garage" era, I always feel like I'm one of the DJs there. I feel like it's 1991, I'm spinning in some underground, packed, warehouse, queens and queers, sweating walls and my intention is to make everyone get into their inner femme queen as long as I'm playing. I want them to feel as Proper as Pepper and as daring as Dorian. The same goes for when I play more the modern beatz as well. 

This line stood out to me in the description of your latest ep, “Khadijah Vol. 6”, and I feel it captures the vivid, encompassing energy present in your music and performance: [“We must remember that it is the pre-ball ciphers that brought us here. It was the "neicy neicy neicy"'s in the houses, in your socks, smoking a blunt and voguing with your girlfriends that got us here. It is the heart-pounding moment when it is 3-3 and an Icon has to break the tie.”] What does this say about your world and your journey so far? 
That my journey came from the mattress on the floor, my journey came from not having and if it wasn't for those experiences and stories that I've gained throughout life and this career, I wouldn't be the talent I am. I wanted to let folks know that while we elevate into this new realm of fame and "fortune", we can't lose a fortune to a curse. We got to remember the very bare elements that attracted us to the scene, the things that drew us in from a cold, disrespectful, unforgiving world.

Because the ballroom scene can be so centralized, a lot of people go unnoticed as being the barrier breakers in their own city, and I think we need to have that highlighted more often.

What are some similarities or differences between DJing and performing? And do you prefer one over the other?
It really depends on what the atmosphere is calling for. Most of the time, it's easier to DJ. For me, both make me bring out my full self. The biggest similarity you could say there is how much both actions invoke so much emotion from me.

Who are some of your musical influences and all-time favorite artists and icons? 
I have so many favorites. Missy Elliott, of course. Timbaland, Flying Lotus, Busta Rhymes, DJ Vjuan Allure, J*DaVeY, Little Dragon, Sy Smith and the list goes on...

This time has been trying, mentally, spiritually and physically. How do you unwind? Where do you find peace within? What are some things you tell yourself?
If there's greenery around, I'll make use of it. I love to play ASMR noise (car rides and indistinct chatter mainly) or music to relax and tune out the world when it becomes too much. I've become more into praying and I've familiarized myself with the phrase "Step back and let God do it". There's power in that advice. 

What’s something you’re looking forward to in the future?
The end of this damn pandemic so we can go back to human interaction. I miss being around people, I miss being outside freely. I'm looking forward to changed minds about a lot of social/political issues given our new president in place as well as the constant work that black/trans/queer folks are doing to change the trajectory of the future for us. I'm looking forward to anything positive coming towards me and the people I love and care about! 

Click here to listen to DJ Delish's set for Half Moon x The Standard Sound Off


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